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Poets

Braithwaite, William Stanley Beaumont (1878-1962)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
courtesy of The Van Vechten Trust
William Stanley Braithwaite, the acclaimed poet and anthologist, was born in Boston on December 6, 1878. He was the second of five children born to William Smith Braithwaite and Emma Dewolfe Braithwaite. William Stanley Braithwaite’s father, originally from British Guiana, was a man of mixed racial heritage who had spent considerable time in England studying medicine, using the legacy left to him by a French grandmother. His mother, who almost passed for white, was the daughter of a mulatto ex-slave who had come North in the years following Civil War.

While William Stanley’s father was alive, the children were tutored at home in the usual subjects, as well as less common subjects such as French. Along with a superior education, William Stanley was also raised to consider only white children as his peers and to associate himself with the best and brightest among them whenever possible. These attitudes about race were inherited from his father, but would have less influence over him as the years went by.
Sources: 
Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); Britannica Student Encyclopedia, http://student.britannica.com/comptons/article-9317968/William-Stanley-Braithwaite
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Cotter, Joseph Seamon, Sr. (1861-1949)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr., the father of poet-playwright Joseph Seamon, Jr., distinguished himself as a playwright, poet, author, and educator. Cotter was born in Bardstown, Kentucky in 1861, but was reared in Louisville. He was one of the earliest African American playwrights to be published. His father, Michael J. Cotter, was of Scots-Irish ancestry, and his mother, Martha Vaughn, was an African American. Cotter, Sr. married Maria F.

Sources: 
Anthony Duane Hill, ed., An Historical Dictionary of African American Theater (Prevessin, France: Scarecrow Press, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Ohio State University

Randall, Dudley (1914-2000)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

20th Century poet Dudley Felker Randall was born January 14, 1914 in Washington D.C.  He later moved to Detroit, Michigan. Born to Clyde and Ada Viola Randall, Dudley showed an interest in poetry at age four, writing lyrics to the song “Maryland, my Maryland” which was performed at a band concert in a Baltimore suburb.  At age thirteen, Randall won a sonnet writing contest, taking home the one dollar first place prize.

Dudley Randall earned his Bachelor's degree in English from Wayne State University in 1949 and his Masters degree in Library Science from the University of Michigan in 1951.  While writing poetry he also served in the U.S. Army and worked for Ford Motors.  Later in life Randall became a publisher, editor, and librarian.  In 1965 he founded Broadside Press which over the next two decades produced the work of a number of African American writers. Their books helped reshape the American literary scene in the post-1960s era.   

Randall's own writings often explored racial and historical themes. He utilized ideas and forms from traditional western traditional poetry but his work was also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance writers.  Dudley Randall’s influences particularly include Harlem Renaissance writers Countee Cullen and Jean Toomer.  Randall wrote seven books, the one with his most widely known poems is Point, Counterpoem. His poetry also appears in a number of other anthologies and other publications.

Sources: 

Baxter R. Miller, “Dudley Randall,” Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Poets Since 1955, Vol. 41, T. Harris, Editor, (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985); Melba Joyce Boyd, Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003); Joyce Pettis, “Dudley Randall.” African American Poets: Lives, Works, and Sources. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002); Naomi Long Madgett, Dudley Randall's Life and Career. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. <http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/randall/life.htm.> Retrieved on 2009-02-26.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Cotter, Joseph Seamon, Jr. (1895-1919)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

John Seamon Cotter, Jr., a talented playwright, journalist, and poet, was born and reared in Louisville, Kentucky. The son of journalist, playwright, poet, teacher and community developer Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr., the younger Cotter’s education began with his sister Florence Olivia teaching him to read. Cotter graduated from Louisville’s Central High School in 1911, where his father was the school principal and his teacher. His mother, Maria F. Cox, was also a teacher at the school. Cotter attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee for two years before being stricken with tuberculosis, a disease that earlier claimed the life of his sister Florence in 1914.  

Joseph Cotter, Jr., completed a collection of one-act plays and poetry during the last seven years of his life. He also wrote one play, On the Fields of France, a protest play in one act which was published in 1920 after his death.  It followed the last hours of two American army officers, one black, one white, both mortally wounded, who ultimately died hand in hand on a battlefield in northern France wondering why they could not have lived in peace and friendship in the United States.  Cotter wrote two other plays, The White Folks’ Nigger and Caroling Dusk which were never published.  Cotter died of tuberculosis in Louisville in 1919 at the age of 24.

Sources: 
Anthony Duane Hill, ed., An Historical Dictionary of African American Theater (Prevessin, France: Scarecrow Press, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Ohio State University

Hughes, Langston (1902-1967)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Sources: 
Faith Berry, Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem (Westport, Ct.: L. Hill, 1983); Nathan Huggins, Harlem Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971); Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986-88).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Boston College

Clarke, George Elliott (1960- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
George Elliott Clarke, a poet, playwright and literary critic is also the E.J Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto (Ontario). Clarke was born near the Black Loyalist community of Windsor Plains, Nova Scotia. He is a seventh generation Canadian descendant of black loyalists who were repatriated from the United States to British Canada immediately after the American Revolution.  
Sources: 
George Elliott Clarke, Africadian History (Kentville: Gaspereau Press, 2001); George Elliott Clarke, Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002); George Elliott Clarke, Black (Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2006); George Elliott Clarke, George & Rue (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007). http://www.writers.ns.ca/Writers/gsclarke.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Danner, Margaret E. (1915-1984)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

Margaret Esse Danner is an African American poet, born in Pryorsburg, Kentucky on January 12, 1915 to Caleb and Naomi Esse.  Danner began writing poetry when she was in junior high school. In the eighth grade she won first place for a poem she wrote titled, “The Violin.”  Her family moved to Chicago when Margaret began High School.  

Danner later attended Loyola and Northwestern Universities, where she was taught by Karl Shapiro and Paul Engle. She continued her writing while in Chicago and first became recognized in 1945 when she won second place in the Poetry Workshop of the Midwestern Writers Conference at Northwestern University.  In 1951, while in Chicago, Danner become an editorial assistant for Poetry: the Magazine of Verse. It was this publication that introduced her poem series “Far From Africa” for which she is best known.  These poems won Danner the John Hay Whitney Fellowship on 1951, which was intended to fund a trip to Africa scheduled for that same year.  Danner postponed the trip for personal reasons and in fact did not go to Africa until 1966.  In 1955 Margaret Danner became the first African American to hold the position of Assistant Editor of Poetry: The Magazine of Verse...

During her lifetime, Margaret Danner was married twice and had one daughter with her first husband. A number of her later poems were inspired by her grandson, Sterling, which she referenced as “Muffin Poems.” In 1961, Danner became poet-in-residence at Wayne State University in Detroit.  It was during this time that Danner became involved in the Baha'i faith, which would influence her poetry.  From that point many of her poems would refer to that faith.

Sources: 

June M. Aldridge, “Margaret Esse Danner.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Poets since 1955. Vol. 41, T. Harris, Editor, (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985); Haki Madhubuti, Dynamite Voices I: Black Poets of the 1960s. (Detroit: Broadside Press, 1971).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Baldwin, James (1924-1987)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

James Arthur Baldwin, fiction writer, essayist, dramatist, and poet, was born on August 2, 1924 in Harlem, New York during the Harlem Renaissance. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in 1942, he began his formal career as a writer.  Baldwin was inspired by Richard Wright, despite his being called to the ministry at age fourteen in the Pentecostal faith and church dominated by his father, David Baldwin. 

Sources: 
Warren Carson, “James Baldwin.” Encyclopedia of African American Literature. Edited by Wilfred D. Samuels (New York: Facts on File, 2007); David Leeming, James Baldwin (New York: Knopf, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Senghor, Léopold Sédar (1906-2001)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Scholar, African traditionalist poet, and Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor was born on October 9, 1906 in Joal, Senegal. His father, Basie Diogoye Senghor, was a Malinké landowner. His mother, Gnilane Bakhoum, came from a Christian Fulani family. They gave Senghor a European name to reflect both the noble Serer culture they identified with, as well as their Catholic faith. Senghor grew up with his father’s four wives and his twenty-four siblings.

At the age of seven, Senghor was sent to a Catholic mission school, where he first learned French. At 13, he decided to enter the Catholic priesthood. He attended Libermann seminary in Dakar but in 1926, dissuaded by the seminary, switched to the secondary school Lycée Van Vollenhoven. He graduated from high school with honors and his classical languages teacher persuaded the colonial administration to grant Senghor a scholarship to pursue literary studies in France.

Sources: 
Melvin Dixon, Léopold Sédar Senghor: The Collected Poetry, Trans. by Melvin Dixon (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991); Kevin Shillington, ed., Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Evergreen State College

Bennett, Gwendolyn (1902-1981)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Gwendolyn Bennett a poet, author, educator, journalist and graphic artist, was born July 8, 1902 in Giddings, Texas, to Joshua and Maime Bennett.  Her parents worked as teachers in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gwendolyn’s family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1906 when she was four years old. Soon after, Bennett’s mother divorced her father and took custody of six year old Gwendolyn. Joshua eventually kidnapped Gwendolyn and they settled in with her stepmother in Brooklyn, New York.

Bennett attended Brooklyn’s Girls High from 1918 to 1921 where she became the first African American to join the Drama and Literary societies and where she was rewarded first place in a school-wide art contest.  After graduating from high school, Bennett enrolled at Columbia University and Pratt Institute to pursue fine arts.  She graduated in 1924.

Bennett began to write poetry in college and in November 1923, her poem “Nocturne” was published in The Crisis, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  The following month another poem, “Heritage” appeared in Opportunity, the magazine of the National Urban League.  In 1924, Bennett became an Assistant Professor in the Art Department at Howard University.  Continuing her education in fine arts, Bennett went to Academic Julian and Ecole de Pantheon in Paris in 1925.

Sources: 

Jessie Carney Smith, Notable Black American Women (Detroit-London: Gale
Research Inc. 1992).
http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/bennett_gwendolyn.html.http://...

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Cullen, Countee (1903-1946)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Gerald Early, ed., My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance (New York: Anchor Books, 1991); David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Alden Reimonenq, “Countee Cullen’s Uranian ‘Soul Windows,’” in Critical Essays: Gay and Lesbian Writers of Color, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson (New York: The Haworth Press, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Texas at Austin

Negritude Movement

Entry Type: 
Misc
History Type: 
Global African History
Negritude Painting, "La Jungla" by Cuban-born
Afro-Chinese Painter Wilfredo Lam
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The literary movement, Negritude, was born out of the Paris intellectual environment of 1930s and 1940s. It is a product of black writers joining together through the French language to assert their cultural identity.
Sources: 
Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith, Aimé Césaire: Collected Poetry, Trans. by Eshleman and Smith (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); Lilyan Kesteloot, Black Writers in French: A Literary History of Negritude, Trans. by Ellen Conroy Kennedy (Washington D.C.: Howard University Press, 1991).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
The Evergreen State College

Reed, Ishmael (1938 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Ishmael Reed is an African American poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, songwriter, cartoonist, editor, publisher, lecturer and public media commentator. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on February 22, 1938, he grew up in Buffalo, New York, after his mother Thelma Coleman moved there during the Great Migration of World War II.  When his mother married Bennie Reed, Ishmael took his stepfather's last name.

Reed attended the University of Buffalo between 1956 and 1960, but did not receive a degree. In 1995, the university, now State University of New York at Buffalo, awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Letters and named him Distinguished Alumni of the Year 2014.

Sources: 

Ishmael Reed Website, http://www.ishmaelreed.org/; “KONCH Magazine,” http://ishmaelreedpub.com/; “Before Columbus Foundation,” http://www.beforecolumbusfoundation.com/;  “PEN Oakland,” https://www.penoakland.com/; “The Art of Poetry No. 100,” The Paris Review, #218, Fall 2016 (36-62).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Toomer, Jean (1894-1967)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Jean Toomer was born into an elite black family in Washington, D.C. in 1894. Abandoned by his father as a newborn and losing his mother to appendicitis as a teenager, Toomer spent his formative years in the home of his grandparents, P.B.S. and Nina Pinchback. P.B.S. Pinchback served as a state senator and governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction and nearly represented Louisiana in the United States Senate. After Redemption, Pinchback moved his family to Washington, D.C. where he opened a law firm.

After graduating from Dunbar High School, Toomer enrolled in the agriculture program at the University of Wisconsin but he remained there for less than a year. Between 1916 and 1919, Toomer attended the University of Chicago and took courses at various colleges including New York University, City College, and the Rand School of Social Science. He also sold cars in Chicago, taught physical education in Milwaukee, and worked as a New Jersey ship fitter.
Sources: 
Cynthia Earl Kerman and Richard Eldridge, The Lives of Jean Toomer: A Hunger for Wholeness (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987); David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Nellie McKay, Jean Toomer, Artist: A Study of His Literary Life and Work, 1894-1936 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Texas

Soyinka, Wole (1934- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Courtesy of Harvard University
Akinwande Ouwole "Wole" Soyinka, the first African writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature (1986) was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria on July 13, 1934.  His father, Canon S.A. Soyinka, was an Anglican minister and his mother, Grace Eniola, was the daughter of an Anglican minister.
Sources: 
Biodun Jeyifo, Wole Soyinka: Politics, Poetics and Post Colonialism (New York: Cambridge Press, 2004); http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/soyinka/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Lorde, Audre (1934-1992)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Audre Lorde, born February 18, 1934 in New York City, was an American feminist poet.  The youngest of three daughters, Audre Lorde was nearsighted to the point of legal blindness. She also didn't speak till she was five, having first been inspired to speak by a short story that was read to her by a local librarian. Growing up in Harlem during the Great Depression, she often listened to her mother's stories of the West Indies. Her parents intended to return to the West Indies, Grenada, but the Depression prevented it.  

Lourde attended Hunter College from 1951 to 1959, graduating with a Bachelor's degree, later earning a Master's degree in Library Science from Columbia University in 1961.  Lorde worked as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library in Mount Vernon, New York until 1963. While working in Mount Vernon, she married attorney Edwin Ashley Rollins. The couple had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan and subsequently divorced in 1970.

During her lifetime, Audre Lorde published twelve books. A number of her poems were also published in anthologies. Lorde described herself as “a black feminist lesbian mother poet.”  She claimed that poetry was her first language, saying that when she was young she often responded to questions in the form of poetry to avoid reprimands from adults about occasional stuttering.  

Sources: 

Irma McClaurin-Allen. “Audre Lorde.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Poets since 1955. Vol. 41, T. Harris, Editor, (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985); Joyce Pettis, “Audre Lorde” African American Poets: Lives, Works and Sources (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002) Beverly Kulii, Ann Reuman, & Ann Trapasso. Modern American Poetry: Audrey Lorde's Life and Career.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
<http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lorde/life.htm>
retrieved on 2009-02-27; Adrienne Rich.  “An Interview with Audre
Lorde.” Signs 6:4. (Summer 1981).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Walker, Margaret (1915-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Dr. Margaret Abigail Walker Alexander's contributions to American letters--four volumes of poetry, a novel, a biography, and numerous critical essays--mark her as one of this country's most gifted black intellectuals. These accomplishments are even more remarkable given that she achieved most of them after 1943 when she was a college professor, wife, and mother of four children. Despite the cumulative demands of these pursuits, Walker prevailed, and left a nurturing literary legacy.

Walker was born on July 7, 1915, in Birmingham, Alabama. Her father, a well educated minister, and her mother, a music teacher, provided an environment in which their daughter thrived. In 1931 she met Langston Hughes, who encouraged her to seek an education outside the South. Walker completed her B.A. at Northwestern University (Illinois) when she was only nineteen, and while living in Chicago she was affiliated with several important writing groups. During the Depression, she worked for the Federal Writers' Project and contributed a dialect piece, "Yalluh Hammuh," whose folk hero would later appear in For My People (1942). As a member of the South Side Writers Group, Walker was a close colleague of Richard Wright. Walker completed her M.A. at the University of Iowa by writing For My People, a work for which she later became the first African American to win the Yale Younger Poets award.  Her Ph.D. dissertation, also at Iowa, became her highly acclaimed Jubilee.
Sources: 
http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/walker/bio.htm ; William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, Trudier Harris, eds., The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature (Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y. 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

dan Fodio, Usman (1754-1817)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Map of the Sultanate of Sokoto
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Islamic preacher, reformer, scholar, and statesman, Usman dan Fodio was born on December 15, 1754 in the village of Maratta, in the Hausa city-state of Gobir, in what is today northern Nigeria.  He was a descendant of the early Fulani settlers in Hausaland in the 15th century.  He spent his youth in the devout pursuit of Islamic religious education, and his early manhood preaching, teaching, and writing.

Dan Fodio became an itinerant Muslim preacher in 1774, moving among rural communities.  He was a leader in the expansion of Islam across the Hausa countryside, increasing the popular basis for religious teaching and bringing literacy to numerous small communities.   He wrote poems and stories of mysticism that increased his popularity as a teacher and preacher.    
Sources: 
Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels, eds., The History of Islam in Africa (Athens:  Ohio University Press, 2000); Kevin Shillington, Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Bonner, Marita Odette (1899-1971)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Marita Odette Bonner (Occomy) was an African American writer, essayist, and playwright associated with the Harlem Renaissance Era.  Born on June 16, 1899 to Joseph Andrew and Anne Noel Bonner in Boston, Massachusetts, she and her three siblings grew up in Brookline, a suburb of Boston.  Bonner attended Brookline High School where she first began to write when she became involved in a magazine organized by the student body called the Sagamor.
Sources: 
Joyce Flynn and Joyce O. Stricklin, eds., Frye Street and Environs: The Collected Works of Marita Bonner (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987); Jessie Carney Smith, Notable Black American Women, Book II (Detroit-London: Gale Research Inc, 1996) http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/bonner_marita_odette.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wheatley, Phillis (1754-1784)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Enslaved in Senegal [in a region that is now in Gambia] at age eight and brought to America on a schooner called the Phillis (for which she was apparently named), was purchased by Susannah and John Wheatley, who soon recognized her intellect and facility with language.  Susannah Wheatley taught Phillis to read not only English but some Latin.  While yet in her teens, Phillis Wheatley became the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry, and the third woman in the American colonies to do so.  That book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, became controversial twice.
Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2003); http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/main_pages/madison_archives/era/african/free/wheatley/bio.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Brigham Young University

Johnson, Linton Kwesi (1952– )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

Linton Kwesi Johnson, political activist, poet and reggae artist, was born in Chapelton, Jamaica in 1952. After his parents’ divorce, Johnson was raised by his grandmother. Johnson left his small parish in 1963 and moved to London, UK to be with his mother, where he attended Tulse Hill secondary school.

Johnson became increasingly aware of the struggles facing black citizens in Brixton during his adolescence, in particular police brutality. He was inspired by W.E.B. DuBois’s book The Souls of Black Folk (1903). In 1970 he joined the Black Panther movement in Britain where the youth meetings he attended were a formative period of his life and subsequent politics. This political awakening would inspire Johnson to write poetry and to vocalise the racial injustice he saw around him. He highlighted the death of demonstrator Blair Peach, who was killed at an anti-fascist march.  Some activists believed he died as a result of violence by the Metropolitan Police’s “Special Patrol Group.”

Sources: 
Linton Kwesi Johnson’s profile on “Contemporary Writers”: http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth58; “I did my own thing” interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson by Nicholas Wroe, published in “The Guardian,” March 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/mar/08/featuresreviews.guardianreview11.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Bath, England

Menard, John Willis (1838-1893)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

John Willis Menard, abolitionist, author, journalist and politician, was born in 1838 in Kaskaskia, Illinois, to French Creole parents. He was the first African American elected to Congress, but was not seated after a dispute over the election results. Menard attended Iberia College, an abolitionist school in Iberia, Ohio.  

Sources: 
Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008); "John Willis Menard," Notable Black American Men Book II (Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2006); John Willis Menard, Lays in Summer Lands, edited by Larry Eugene Rivers, Richard Matthews, & Canter Brown, Jr. (Tampa, FL: University of Tampa Press, 2002); John Willis Menard, Black and White. No Party—No Creed: A Lecture. (Philadelphia, no date); John Willis Menard, An Address to the Free Colored People of Illinois (no city, ca. 1860).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Horne, Frank Smith (1899-1974)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Gail Lumet Buckley, The Hornes: An American Family (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1986); Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith and Cornel West, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996); Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey Jr., The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2005); Victor A. Kramer and Robert A. Russ, Harlem Renaissance Re-examined (New York: Whitston Publishing Co., 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brutus, Dennis (1924-2009)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Courtesy of the Armenian Weekly
Dennis Brutus was a South African poet, organizer and activist perhaps most notable for his use of sports as a weapon against apartheid. Dennis Vincent Brutus was born to South African parents of French, Italian and African descent in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1924. When he was four, his family returned to Port Elizabeth, South Africa where, under the country’s racial code, Brutus was classified as “colored.” After graduating from the University of Fort Hare, Brutus became a teacher of English and Afrikaans in nonwhite schools.
Sources: 
Aisha Karim and Lee Sustar, Poetry & Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader (Chicago,: Haymarket Books, 2006); Adrian Guelke, Rethinking the Rise and Fall of Apartheid (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Douglas Martin, “Dennis Brutus Dies at 85; Fought Apartheid with Sports,” New York Times, 2 January 2010, A22; “Dennis Brutus Biography,” Biography.com, http://www.biography.com/articles/Dennis-Brutus-40359.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montana State University

Madhubuti, Haki R. (Don L. Lee) (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Regina Jennings, Malcolm X and the Poetics of Haki Madhubuti (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2006); Lita Hooper, Art of Work: The Art and Life of Haki R. Madhubuti (Chicago: Third World Press, 2007); Jeffrey Louis Decker, The Black Aesthetic Movement (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1991).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Parks, Gordon (1912-2006)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

On November 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas, Sarah and Andrew Parks welcomed their fifteenth child, Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks, into their home. Though struggling against poverty and racism in Fort Scott, young Gordon was nurtured there. His mother was especially influential, and her early lessons sustained him throughout his remarkable life. Because of Parks’s vast intellectual and artistic accomplishments, he was described as a “Renaissance man.” He accomplished many firsts, including the distinction of being the first black photographer at Vogue, Glamour, and Life magazines. He worked at Life for nearly 25 years and completed over 300 assignments. He was a documentary and fashion photographer; a film director, writer, producer; a poet, novelist, essayist; and a composer. Among his notable films are Shaft and The Learning Tree.

Sources: 
John Edgar Tidwell “Gordon Parks and the Unending Quest for Self-fulfillment,” in Virgil W. Dean, ed., John Brown to Bob Dole: Movers and Shakers in Kansas History; http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/parks/.
Affiliation: 
University of Kansas

Guillén, Nicolás (1902-1989)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Afro-Cuban writer Nicolás Guillén used his poetry as a form of social protest in pre-Castro Cuba. Guillén was born in Camagüey, Cuba on July 10, 1902 and by the mid 1920s had emerged as a leader of the Afro-Cuban movement. He was committed to social justice and through his loyalty to the Communist party he became a prominent voice of revolutionary Cuba.

Guillén was a student of law at the University of Havana until 1921 when he decided to drop out and focus on writing poetry. He utilized his Spanish and African background of speech, legends, songs, and dances to influence his message and style of writing. His first volume of poetry Motivos de son (“Motifs of son”) published in 1930 quickly gained popularity and recognition.

Sources: 
"Nicolás Guillén," in Verity Smith, ed., Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997); "Nicolás Guillén," in Encyclopedia Britannica (2011), retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/248753/Nicolas-Guillen.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Scott-Heron, Gil (1949-2011)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Poet, novelist, musician, and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 1, 1948 to parents Bobbie Scott Heron, a librarian, and Giles (Gil) Heron, a Jamaican professional soccer player. He grew up in Lincoln, Tennessee and the Bronx, New York, where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School. Heron attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and received an M.S. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University.

By age 13, Scott-Heron had written his first collection of poems. He published his first novel, The Vulture, a murder mystery whose central themes include the devastating effects of drugs on urban black life, in 1968 at age 19.  Four years later,  Scott-Heron published his second novel, The Nigger Factory (1972), which, set on the campus of a historically black college (HBCU), focused on the conflicting ideology between the more traditionally Eurocentric-trained administrators; the younger, more nationalistic students—founders of  Members of Justice for Meaningful Black Education (MJUMBE); and the more moderate students and their leader, Earl Thomas.

Sources: 
Hank Bordowitz, “Music Notes: Gil Scott Heron.” American Vision 13 no.3 (June 1998):40; Terry Rowden, “Gil Scott-Heron,” Encyclopedia of African American Literature Wilfred D. Samuels, ed., (New York: Facts on File, 2007): 452-454.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins (1825-1911)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
A poet and essayist, Frances Ellen Watkins was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1825.  Orphaned at the age of three, Watkins went to live with her aunt and uncle, Harriet and William Watkins.  Unlike most free blacks, Frances grew up in comfortable surroundings; her uncle juggled several occupations in order to support the family, including preaching, shoemaking, and medicine. He was also a teacher and administrator at Watkins Academy, a school he had established in 1820.  Like other young women, Frances learned the female “trades” of sewing and domestic work in addition to learning academic subjects at her uncle’s school.  
Sources: 
Shirley J. Yee, Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828-1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992); Frances Smith Foster, “Frances Ellen Watkins Harper,” in Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. I (New York: Carlson, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Abrahams, Peter (1919-- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Peter Abrahams With Family, 1955
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Twentieth century African novelist and journalist Peter Henry Abrahams was born in Vrededorp (near Johannesburg), South Africa, on March 19, 1919. Abrahams’ father, James Henry Abrahams Deras was the son of former Ethiopian landowners who had taken him across Europe before settling in South Africa. Abrahams’ mother, Angelina DuPlessis was a Coloured South African, who had given birth to two children (Abrahams’ older siblings, Harry and Maggie) in her prior marriage.

Abrahams’ father passed away in the early 1920s and since his mother was often unable to find work to support the family, he was sent to the village of Elsburg, South Africa, to live with relatives. Here, Abrahams was introduced to the often-inhospitable conditions of rural working life.  In 1930 at the age of 11 he returned to Johannesburg and enrolled in school for the first time. He worked part time to pay for his education.
Sources: 
Michael Wade, Peter Abrahams (London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1972); Kolawole Ogungbesan, The Writing of Peter Abrahams (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979); http://www.africansuccess.org/visuFiche.php?lang=en&id=884.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Knight, Etheridge (1931-1991)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Etheridge Knight took a very unconventional path on his way to becoming one of the most popular poets during the Black Arts Movement.  America’s first introduction to Knight’s literary skills came with his first book publication, Poems from Prison in 1968.  Mr. Knight’s troubled past and time in prison led to an unorthodox style of “street” language, drug culture vocabulary, and black slang that immediately separated him from other poets of the era.

Sources: 
Linda Cullum, Contemporary American Ethnic Poets (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004); Joyce Pettis, African American Poets (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2002).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Van Der Zee, James (1886-1983)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
James VanDerZee was an African American photographer during the Harlem Renaissance who was best known for his pictures that captured the lives of African Americans in New York City, New York. He had a gift for capturing the most influential individuals and riveting artistic moments of the era.  Early 20th century black activist Marcus Garvey, black entertainer/ dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and renowned black poet Countee Cullen were among his more prominent subjects.

VanDerZee was born in Lenox, Massachusetts in 1886.  He demonstrated a gift for music and initially aspired to a career as a professional violinist.  
Sources: 
James VanDerZee, Drop Me Off in Harlem (Washington D.C., The Kennedy Center, 1922: Photographs).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Okri, Ben (1959-- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

The author Ben Okri was born March 15, 1959 in the small town of Minna in northern Nigeria.  His mother, Grace Okri, was of the Igbo ethnic group while his father, Silver Oghekeneshineke Loloje Okri was an Urhobo.  Ben’s father was a clerk with Nigerian Railways until after the Nigerian independence of 1960, when he left for London, UK to study law.

Ben Okri joined his father in 1962, and attended the John Donne Primary School at Peckham in London.  He had to return to Nigeria with his mother in 1966, however, where he attended the schools Ibadan and Ikenne before beginning his secondary education at Urhobo College at Warri.  He was the youngest in his class when he began his studies at Urhobo in 1968 and was only 14 at the end of his secondary education in 1972.  He then moved home to Lagos, Nigeria to study on his own.

Sources: 
Simon Gikandi, The Routledge Encyclopedia of African Literature (London: Routledge, 2009); Pushpa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne, Postcolonial African Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1998); Jane Wilkinson, Talking with African Writers: Interviews with African Poets, Playwrights, & Novelists (London: J. Curry, 1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School (1870- )

Vignette Type: 
Institutions
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Paul Laurence Dunbar High School was established in 1870 as the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth with 45 students and one teacher, Emma J. Hutchins, to provide secondary education for the city’s African American children after efforts to integrate schools in Washington, D.C. failed. Within the first few years, the school expanded and added African American faculty, most of whom were former students at the school. Among the first several principals of the school were Mary Jane Patterson, the second African American female college graduate, Anna J. Cooper, the fourth African American woman to earn a Ph.D., and Richard T. Greener, the first African American graduate of Harvard in Massachusetts. The school had numerous locations until it moved to a permanent site at M Street in 1891.  At that time the name was changed to the M Street High School, and in 1916 it moved again and was renamed the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in honor of the African American poet. This site and name remain with the school until the present day.
Sources: 
Mary Gibson, The Dunbar Story (1870-1955) (New York: Vantage Press, 1965); “Dunbar High School,” District of Columbia Public Schools profile, http://profiles.dcps.dc.gov/dunbar.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Grimke, Angelina Weld (1880-1958)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Angelina Weld Grimke was born into a legacy of advocacy for racial justice. As the daughter of Archibald Grimke, the second black to graduate from Harvard law and vice-president of the NAACP, Grimké’s heritage of racial equality can be further traced to her grand aunts, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, prominent abolitionists and advocates of women’s rights.

Sources: 

Carolivia Herron, Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimke (London: Oxford University Press, 1991); http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/bios/grimkeaw.html

Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Sembene, Ousmane (1923-2007)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Ousmane Sembène, prolific writer and film producer, was born in January 1923 in Ziguinchor, Senegal.  Official documents were rare in 1920s French colonies, so even though Sembène was officially listed as born on the eighth of January, he says that it is likely that he was actually born eight days earlier.

Sembène was born a French citizen, thanks to his father Moussa Sembène, a fisherman who was from the region Senegal where such citizenship had been extended in the 19th Century. His mother was Ramatoulaye Ndiaye. His parents were together only briefly, and Sembène was raised by his maternal grandmother after his mother moved to Dakar.

Sources: 
Brian Cox, African Writers (New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997); Samba Gadjigo, Ousmane Sembène: the Making of a Militant Artist (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010); Annet Busch and Max Annas, Ousmane Sembène: Interviews (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

McClellan, George Marion (1860–1934)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
African American poet, writer, minister, and educator George Marion McClellan was born in Belfast, Tennessee on September 29, 1860 to George Fielding and Eliza (Leonard) McClellan. Little is known about McClellan’s early life.

In 1885 McClellan obtained a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  In October 1888 McClellan married Mariah Augusta Rabb, a teacher, who also graduated from Fisk University.  Two years later McClellan received a master’s degree from Fisk.

McClellan and his wife had two sons, one of whom died in childhood of tuberculosis and about whom McClellan wrote tenderly in his poem “To Theodore.”

Sources: 
Peter Schmidt, Sitting in Darkness: New South Fiction, Education, and the Rise of Jim Crow Colonialism, 1865-1920 , pp. 83- ; Chapter 5, Lynching and the Liberal Arts: Rediscovering George Marion McClellan’s Old Greenbottom Inn and Other Stories (1906); Who’s Who Of The Colored Race: A General Biographical Dictionary of Men and Women of African Descent (Volume 1 – 1915), edited by Frank Lincoln Mather, Memento Edition, Half Century Anniversary of Negro Freedom in U.S. (Chicago: Copyright 1915 by Frank Lincoln Mather) http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/4371/McClellan-George-Marion-1860-1934.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Dismond, Henry Binga (1891-1956)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Sources: 
“Emulated Dime Novel Hero and Became a Noted Athlete,” The Brooklyn Eagle, January 29, 1917;  “Dr. Dismond Pioneers In New Field, Pittsburgh Courier, December 19, 1931; “Dr. Dismond Heads Harlem Hospital Department,” The Pittsburgh Courier, April 30, 1932.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Sanchez, Sonia (1934- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 

Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2004);
http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/sanchez_sonia.html;
http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/276
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Castries, St. Lucia (1650 - )

Entry Type: 
Places
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Castries, capital of St. Lucia, is also the largest city on the island.  The latest estimates show its population as about 20,000.  St. Lucia with a total population of 163,362 (July 2014 est.) is part of the Windward Islands chain which forms the boundary between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.   

Arawak and Carib Indians inhabited St. Lucia exclusively until 1502, when a group of French sailors became the first Europeans to reach the island.  European settlement, however, was stalled for more than a century by fierce resistance from the Caribs.

The French founded Castries in 1650, naming it “Carénage,” which means "safe anchorage," in reference to the city’s deep water port.  It adopted the name Castries in 1756 in honor of Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix, Marquis de Castries and Commander of a fleet of French ships.  
Sources: 
Castries, St Lucia - Lonely Planet, http://www.lonelyplanet.com/st-lucia/castries; St Lucia History, Language and Culture - World Travel Guide, http://www.worldtravelguide.net/castries › Destinations › Caribbean › St Lucia; Government of Saint Lucia http://www.govt.lc/; St Lucia - Original Official Guide - Geographia, http://www.geographia.com/st-lucia/index.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Smythe, Hugh Heyne (1913-1977)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ambassador Hugh Smythe and His Wife Mabel
Murphy Smythe, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic, 1965
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Sources: 
Mark Anderson, “The Complicated Career of Hugh Smythe,” Transforming Anthropology, 16 (October 2008); Tor Eigeland, “Our Man in Damascus,” Ebony (December 1966); Cathal J. Nolan (Ed.), Notable U.S. Ambassadors Since 1775: A Biographical Dictionary (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Yates, Josephine Silone (1852-1912)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Teacher, writer and civil rights activist Josephine Silone, the youngest daughter of Alexander and Parthenia Reeve-Silone, was born in Mattiluck on Long Island, New York in 1852.  At age eleven, Yates moved to Philadelphia to live with her uncle, Rev. J.B. Reeve, in hopes of finding greater educational opportunity. There she attended the Institute of Colored Youth run by Fannie Jackson Coppin. By the time Silone was old enough to attend high school, an aunt invited her to live and go to school in Newport, Rhode Island. Silone, the only black student in her class and the first to graduate from Rogers High School in Newport in 1877, was selected class valedictorian.  Silone’s high school teachers encouraged her to attend a university but instead she chose Rhode Island State Normal School, a teacher’s college and again graduated as the only African American student in 1879.

After passing the Rhode Island State Teacher Certification, Silone moved to Jefferson City, Missouri to begin teaching at Lincoln Institute (later Lincoln University) and to head the Department of Natural Sciences. She resigned in 1889 to marry Professor W.W. Yates, then the principal of the Wendell Phillips School in Kansas City.  Josephine Silone Yates, who also taught at the Phillips School, soon became known and admired as one of the best teachers in the state of Missouri.  
Sources: 
Daniel Wallace Culp, Twentieth Century Negro Literature: Or, A Cyclopedia of Thought on the Vital Topics Relating to The American Negro (Palo Alto, California:  J. L. Nichols & Company, 1902).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Nascimento, Beatriz (1942-1995)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Brazilian political activist Beatriz Nascimento was born on July 12, 1942, to Rubina Pereira do Nascimento and Francisco Xavier de Nascimento in Aracaju, capital of the Northeast Brazilian state of Sergipe. She migrated with her family, including ten brothers to Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. At the age of twenty-eight, she started college at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (FURJ) and graduated in 1971 after interning in the National Archives with historian José Honório Rodrigues.

Nascimento worked as a history teacher in the state schools, connecting history with research. She was one of the founders of the Grupo de Trabalho André Rebouças in 1974 at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) in Rio. The Grupo shared with black Brazilian university students race-related issues in education. Beatriz appeared as speaker at the Quinzena do Negro (Black Fortnight) held at the University of São Paulo in 1977, a meeting of major black researchers.

Sources: 
“Maria Beatriz Nascimento (1942–1995): Intellectual Militant of the Movimento Negro, Poet and Historian of Quilombos, Brazil’s Runaway Slave Societies.” Black Women of Brazil. March 26, 2013. Web. https://blackwomenofbrazil.co/2013/03/26/maria-beatriz-nascimento-1942-1995-intellectual-militant-of-the-movimento-negro-poet-and-historian-of-quilombos-brazils-runaway-slave-societies/; Alex Rattz, Alex, "Heróis,." Heróis. Roberto Marinho Foundation,  http://antigo.acordacultura.org.br/herois/heroi/mariabeatriz.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Razaf, Andy (1895–1973)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Andy Razaf was a philosopher-poet, composer, and prolific musical lyricist of over five hundred songs, comprising some of the greatest hits from the Tin Pan Alley (New York) era. During his professional lifetime, Razaf worked with composers such as Fats Waller, Eubie Blake, Don Redman, James P. Johnson, Willie “the Lion” Smith, and Harry Brooks. In collaboration with Fats Waller, Razaf wrote the lyrics to some landmark American songs:  “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” “Honeysuckle Rose,” (What Did I Do to Be So) “Black and Blue,” and “The Joint is Jumpin.’”
Sources: 
Stephen Holden, “A Lot of Hit Songs From an Unsung Lyricist,” New York Times, February 8, 1989; Barry Singer, Black and Blue: The Life and Lyrics of Andy Razaf (New York: Schirmer Books, 1992); http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/andy-razaf-prolific-black-lyricist.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Giovanni, Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" (1943- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image ©Bettmann/Corbis 
"There's no life in safety," said three-time National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award winner Nikki Giovanni, who began her life on June 7, 1943, in Knoxville, Tennessee. She moved with her mother and sister to a small black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, although she traveled back to Knoxville during the summers to live with her grandparents.

In 1960, seventeen-year-old Giovanni entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, at the beginning of the student protest movement. She was promptly dismissed from Fisk in her first semester for expressing "attitudes [which] did not fit those of a Fisk woman." Giovanni returned to Fisk in 1964 and helped restart their chapter of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1967 she graduated from the honors program with a Bachelor’s degree in history. She then attended the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia College.
Sources: 
Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2004);  http://voices.cla.umn.edu/artistpages/giovanniNikki.php.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Roumain, Jean Baptiste (Jacques) / Roumain, Jacques (1907-1944)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Jacques Roumain (Born Jean-Baptiste Roumain) was a Haitian author, poet, novelist, essayist, political activist, and diplomat born on June 4, 1907. He was one of the more famous twentieth century Haitian intellectuals.

Jacques Roumain was born in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. He was the first of eleven siblings, son of Auguste Roumain, a landowner, and Emilie Auguste, daughter of Tancrède Auguste, who was president of the Haitian Republic between 1912 and 1913. Roumain began his education at Saint-Louis de Gonzague, a prestigious private academy, but in 1922, he was sent to Switzerland to continue his studies. In 1926 Roumain left Switzerland for Spain to study agronomy, yet he gave up his studies and focused on bullfighting. His interest in the sport led him to attend classes on the subject and to write the poem “Corrida” in Madrid in May 1926.

Sources: 
Jacques Roumain, Oeuvres complètes. Edition critique coordonnée par León-François Hoffmann. Madrid et Nanterre: Allca XX, 2003; “Roumain, Jacques (1907–1944),” Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/roumain-jacques-1907-1944;  Alexis, Jacques Stephan, “Of the Marvelous Realism of the Haitians,” Presence Africaine (June-November 1956): 249-275.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Sciences Po Paris

Martin, Ora Mae Lewis (1918–2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ora Mae Lewis on Her Wedding Day, 1946
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Newspaper columnist and poet Ora Mae Lewis was born March 29, 1918, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her father, Nathan Leopold Lewis, was a native of Jamaica and a decorated soldier in the British Colonial Army, and her mother Cecelia Della Atkinson, a New Orleans Creole, was a pianist. Cecelia Atkinson died when Ora was seven years old, and her father later re-married. Ora Mae and her siblings lived with her grandmother and great-grandmother. Her parents and grandparents spoke English, French, German, and Creole; however, her father forbade her from speaking anything but the King’s English. Lewis attended New Orleans public schools. Her short story, “The First Christmas,” was published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the city’s largest newspaper, when Lewis was nine.
Sources: 
Ora M. Lewis.com; Jari Honora, “The Twinkling Smiles of Ora Mae Lewis’ Twinkle Magazine,” http://www.creolegen.org/2015/11/20/the-twinkling-smiles-of-ora-mae-lewis-twinkle-magazine/; Sister Mary Anthony Scally, R.S.M., Negro Catholic Writers (1900-1943) A Bio-Bibliography, http://www.nathanielturner.com/negrocatholicwriters2.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Dove, Rita (1952- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photo by Fred Viebahn
American poet laureate Rita Frances Dove was born August 28, 1952 in Akron, Ohio. Rita’s father, Ray Dove, was the first African American chemist in the tire industry. Rita Dove excelled in school and in 1970 she received the Presidential Scholar Award.  Dove completed a B.A. in English in three years at Miami University in Ohio, graduating summa cum laude. In 1974-75 she was a Fulbright scholar at Eberhard Karls University in Tubingen, Germany Rita continued her education at the University of Iowa where she received her Master of Fine Arts in 1977.

In 1977 Dove met her husband, Fred Viebahn, a German poet/novelist.  She was asked to translate his writings while he was a participant in Iowa University’s International Writing Program. They married in 1979, and had a daughter, Aviva, in 1983.

In 1981 Dove became a member of the Arizona State University faculty and except for  one year when she was a writer-in-residence at Tuskegee Institute, she held that position until 1989.  Dove served on a number of literary panels while at Arizona State including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Associate Writing Programs. She held editorial positions in the Callaloo, TriQuarterly, and Gettysburg Review journals.  .
Sources: 
Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2004); http://voices.cla.umn.edu; http://people.virginia.edu.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeyevich (1799-1837)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin is considered by many literary critics and people around the world as Russia’s greatest poet, author, and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin was born into a Russian noble family on June 6, 1799. As a student attending private school in Moscow, Russia, he excelled in French culture and the French language.  Also, during his youth, he began crafting short stories and poems. As his writing skills matured he developed his literary gift of captivating readers through stories and verse that were embedded with topics he felt passionate about. Often these controversial topics included love, racism, social injustice, and political humor and commentary often unwelcome by Russian officials. Some of his works chronicled the lives of his ancestors.

Sources: 
Pushkin Genealogy, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/secret/famous/pushkingenealogy.html; Nicholas Wirth, Hannibal, Abram Petrovich/ Gannibal, A. P. (1696?–1781), BlackPast.org, http://www.blackpast.org/gah/hannibal-abram-petrovich-gannibal-p-1696-1781; D.D. Blagoy, “Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin,”  Encyclopedia Britannica Online, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Aleksandr-Sergeyevich-Pushkin.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Waller, Effie (1879-1960)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Effie Waller was an early twentieth-century poet known for her books of poetry, Songs of the Months (1904), Rhymes from the Cumberland (1909), and Rosemary and Pansies (1909).

Waller was born in Pike County, Kentucky, on January 6, 1879, to parents Sibbie and Frank Waller. Both her parents were former slaves and later on, her father became a blacksmith. She was the third of four children. Oral histories suggest Waller’s family was considered one of the most prominent African American families in the community. Waller attended the Kentucky Normal School for Colored Persons, now known as Kentucky State University, between 1900 and 1902. There, she received a teaching certificate and intermittently taught school for more than a dozen years afterward.

Sources: 
Digital Schomburg African American Women Writers of the 19th Century website, http://digital.nypl.org/schomburg/writers_aa19/biographies.html;
Elizabeth Engelhardt, “Effie Waller Smith: African-American Appalachian Poetry from the Breaks.” Appalachian Heritage 36.3 (2008): 80-83; Kentucky Commission on Human Rights website, http://kchr.ky.gov/ggbk/Pages/gbk30.aspx; University of Kentucky Libraries Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, http://nkaa.uky.edu/record.php?note_id=1033.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brown, Sterling A. (1901-1989)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The last of six children and the only boy born to the Rev. Sterling Nelson and Adelaide (Allen) Brown, Sterling Allen Brown graduated as the top student from Washington’s renowned Dunbar High School (1918).  His success enabled him to accept the token gesture of an academic scholarship Williams College annually extended to Dunbar’s valedictorian.  At this prestigious small, liberal arts school in Massachusetts, from 1918–1922, Brown set aside his own feelings of isolation and performed with distinction: election to Phi Beta Kappa his junior year, winning the Graves Prize for his essay “The Comic Spirit in Shakespeare and Moliere,” and receipt of highest honors from the English Department his senior year.  These accolades won for him a scholarship to study at Harvard University, where he graduated with an MA degree in English in 1923.
Sources: 
Sterling A. Brown, The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1980); Sterling A. Brown,  A Negro Looks at the South, eds. John Edgar Tidwell and Mark A. Sanders (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Joanne Gabbin, Sterling A. Brown: Building the Black Aesthetic Tradition (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985); and Mark A. Sanders, Afro-Modernist Aesthetics and the Poetry of Sterling A. Brown (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Kansas

Langston Hughes' Visit to the Soviet Union (1932-1933)

Entry Type: 
Events
History Type: 
Global African History
Langston Hughes (Left) With Two Unidentified
People in Turkmenistan, 1932
Image Ownership: Public domain

In June of 1932, poet Langston Hughes, political activist Louise Thompson, and 22 other African American artists, filmmakers, and actors, traveled to the Soviet Union (USSR) to create a film about African American life in the American south. The film, aptly titled Black and White, was to focus on the many examples of racial discrimination experienced by blacks in the region as well as to counter the many black stereotypes plaguing the film industry at the time.

Sources: 
Langston Hughes, A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia (Moscow: Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the USS.R., 1934); “Langston Hughes in Central Asia” http://steppemagazine.com/articles/langston-hughes-in-central-asia/; Michael Scammell, “Langston Hughes in the USSR,” The New York Review of Books (February 16, 1989); Jennifer Wilson, “When the Harlem Renisaunce Went to Communist Moscow,” The New York Times (August 21, 2017).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Thomas, John Charles (1950- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

John Charles Thomas, the first African American to sit on the Virginia Supreme Court, began his higher education at the University of Virginia in 1968, and four years later he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American in 1972. He was immediately accepted into the University of Virginia’s Law school and graduated with his law degree in 1975. Thomas’ first job was at the law firm Hunton, Williams, Gay & Gibson in Richmond, Virginia. He was the first African American to be employed at this firm.

Thomas’ career quickly became a long succession of “firsts”. In 1982, he was the first black lawyer in the history of the American South to become partner in a major law firm. In 1983, he when he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Virginia by Governor Chuck Robb, he was the first African American to hold this post and at 32, the youngest person appointed of any race or ethnicity.

After seven years of devout service to the state of Virginia, Williams retired due to illness. He returned to practicing law at his old, but newly named, law firm, Hunton & Williams LLP. In 1995 Thomas was given the NAACP’s Lifetime Image Award.

Sources: 
“John Charles Thomas, Partner.” Hunton & Williams LLP, https://www.hunton.com/en/people/john-charles-thomas.html; “John Charles Thomas,” University of Virginia School of Law School, https://content.law.virginia.edu/faculty/adjunct-profile/jct2ub/2708803;  Erik Zagursky, “Former Virginia Supreme Court Justice John Charles Thomas to speak at Convocation,” William and Mary News, June 6, 2017, http://www.wm.edu/news/stories/2017/former-virginia-supreme-court-justice-john-charles-thomas-to-speak-at-convocation.php.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Davis, Frank Marshall (1905–1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
(Image Courtesy of John Edgar Tidwell)

Frank Marshall Davis rose to prominence as a poet and journalist during the Depression and the Second World War.  Prior to his departure for the Territory of Hawaii in 1948, he found himself the subject of adulation by many readers but also the target of careful scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Part of the reason for these diverging, oppositional interests was his social realist poetry.  Poetry for him became an alternative mode of expression, one that provided release from the “objectivity” demanded by the medium of journalism.  It enabled him to respond “subjectively” to a world of racial discrimination, labor inequity, differential politics, and so much more that burdened and stifled one’s very humanity.  As a result, manifested in his poetry is a profound celebration of the self, characteristically revealed in robust statements of urban themes, a fierce social consciousness, a strong declamatory voice, and an almost rabid race pride.  Given American racial dynamics during this period, Davis’s verse, in some ways, was appropriate for its day and time.  Arguably, it mig

Sources: 
Frank Marshall Davis, Livin' the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet, [John Edgar Tidwell, editor] (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Kansas

Heredia, Severiano de (1836-1901)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public domain

The first mayor of African descent of a major European city, Severiano de Heredia, was born in Havana, Cuba, on November 8, 1836. He was the son of prosperous mulatto parents, Henri de Heredia and Beatriz de Cárdenas. Registered as a “mulatto born free” in the parish of Jesus del Monte, some contend his actual father was his godfather, Don Ignacio Heredia y Campuzano, a wealthy landowner and slaveholder, who adopted and raised him along with his wife, Madeleine Godefroy. Escaping turmoil in Cuba, at age 10 he was packed off to France where he studied in Paris at the prestigious Lyceum Louis le Grand, graduating with highest honors (winner or the Grand Prix d’Honneur) in 1855.

Sources: 
Paul Estrade, Severiano de Heredia. Ce mulâtre cubain que Paris fit 'maire' et la République, ministre (Paris: Les Indes Savantes, 2011); Nicolas Theodet, “En 1879, le maire de Paris était noir,” http://www.lefigaro.fr/culture/2013/04/28/03004-20130428ARTFIG00123-en-1879-le-maire-de-paris-etait-noir.php; “Paris’ Black Major – Severiano de Heredia” on Entrée to Black Paris, http://entreetoblackparis.blogspot.com/2015/10/paris-black-mayor-severiano-de-heredia.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Chase-Riboud, Barbara (1939- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Barbara Chase-Riboud
New York City, 1969
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Barbara Chase-Riboud was born on June 26, 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Charles and Vivian Chase and is known for her controversial novel Sally Hemings, poetry, and sculptures including the Malcolm X Steles. Her artistic talent in drawing and sculpting was discovered at any early age and as a result she attended Philadelphia’s prestigious Girls’ High. In 1959 she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and, following her graduation, she received a prestigious fellowship to study at the American Academy in Rome, Italy. One year later, in 1960, she returned to the United States to receive her Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in Connecticut, where she studied design and architecture.

Sources: 
Meghan B. Simpson, “Barbara Chase-Riboud,” Black Writers of Pennsylvania, http://sites.psu.edu/pablackwriters/the-writers/barbara-chase-riboud/, Fred B. Adelson, “Barbara Chase-Riboud brings Malcolm X sculptures home,” USA Today, November 5, 2013, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/05/barbara-chase-riboud-malcolm-x-sculptures/3447585/, “Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Monument Drawings,” The Met, June 15,1999, https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/1999/barbara-chaseriboud-the-monument-drawings.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Crouch, Stanley (1945- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Stanley Crouch is a tough-minded and controversial jazz critic, playwright, essayist, novelist, and percussionist.  After a personal intellectual transformation in the late 1970s, Crouch became the contemporary champion of traditionalist jazz – an identity which he has defined with both powerful cultural criticisms and outbursts of intellectual and physical combativeness.

Stanley Crouch was born in Los Angeles, California in 1945.  His mother, Emma Bea Crouch, supported his family financially and intellectually.  Asthma kept Crouch confined to his home for much of his childhood, a period which he spent reading and listening.  By the time of his high school graduation in 1963, Crouch had independently read the complete works of Hemingway, Twain, and Fitzgerald, while also founding a school jazz club which explored the works of artists Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Eric Dolphy, among others.  

Crouch attended two separate junior colleges for the next three years, receiving a degree from neither.  It was in this period, however, that Crouch became interested in poetry and drama, being particularly influenced by poet and playwright LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka).  After the eruption of the Watts riots of 1965, Crouch became informally involved in the Watts Writers Workshop, often performing at the Watts Happening Coffee House.  From 1965 until 1967 Crouch was a member of Studio Watts, a local repertory theater.
Sources: 
Robert Boynton, “The Professor of Connection: A Profile of Stanley Crouch,”  The New Yorker, November 6, 1995; Stanley Crouch, The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race (New York City: Pantheon Books, 1995); Steven L. Isoardi, The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Dalit Panther Movement (1972-1977)

Entry Type: 
Organizations
History Type: 
Global African History
Bhagwat Jhadhav, Dalit Panther
Supporter Killed as the Group Marched
Through a Mumbai Neighborhood, ca. 1973
Image Ownership: Public domain

Educated youth from the slums of Mumbai, India started the Dalit Panther Movement (DPM) in June 1972, inspired by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and the U.S. Black Panthers.  Dalits (“downtrodden”) are the lowest “untouchable” caste in Hinduism.  Hinduism views Dalits as sinners in their prior lives who can only redeem themselves by being good servants of the high castes.

Sources: 
Michael Collins, “Writing Dalit assertion:  Early Dalit Panther politics and legal advocacy in 1980s Tamil Nadu,” Contemporary South Asia, 25, (2017); Janet Contursi, “Political theology:  Text and practice in a Dalit Panther community,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 52, (1993);  B. Krishnaiah (Ed.), Dalit Movements and Literature (New Delhi:  Prestige Books International 2011);  JV Pawar, Dalit Panthers:  An Authoritative History, (New Delhi:  Forward Press, 2018) excerpt in Hindustan Times January 19, 2018 https://www.hindustantimes.com/books/excerpt-dalit-panthers-an-authoritative-history-by-jv-pawar/story-llJqyQ3CVRrMrJ3byvbBBP.html; Anupama Rao, The Caste Question:  Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (Los Angeles:  Univ. of California Press, 2009).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Beatty, Paul (1962- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Paul Beatty is an African American author, poet, essayist, and professor who is credited with the creation of the “hip-hop” novel. Beatty was born on June 9, 1962 in Los Angeles, California. His father left the family early in Beatty’s childhood, leaving his mother to raise their two daughters and son.

Beatty graduated from El Camino Real High School, Los Angeles, in 1980 and attended college at Boston University, where he earned a Master of Arts in psychology. Beatty later moved to New York and earned a Masters of the Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Brooklyn College.

Beatty’s authorial debut occurred in 1990, when he became the first Grand Poetry Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poets Café. As part of the championship prize, he was given a book deal which led to his first collection of poetry, Big Bank Take Little Bank, to be published in 1991.

Sources: 
Sneha Vakharia, “A Serious Man.” The Hindu Businessline, Feb. 17, 2017. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/read/a-serious-man/article9547156.ece; John Williams, “Paul Beatty, Author of ‘The Sellout,’ on Finding Humor in Issues of Race.” New York Times, Mar. 2, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/03/books/paul-beatty-author-of-the-sellout-on-finding-humor-in-issues-of-race.html; Nisha, A. “The Sellout Wins 2016 Man Booker Prize.” The Man Booker Prizes, Oct. 25, 2016. https://themanbookerprize.com/news/sellout-wins-2016-man-booker-prize.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Shange, Ntozake \ Williams, Paulette (1948-2018)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

The author, poet, and playwright Paulette Williams was born on October 18, 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey.  Until she was eight, she lived in a racially diverse community among well educated upper middle class black and white families.  She socialized with prominent musicians and performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Berry, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Josephine Baker, all of whom were friends of her parents.

Sources: 

Philip U. Effiong, In Search of a Stylistic Model for Modern African-American Drama: The example of Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange (Paulette Williams), and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993); Sandra L. Richards, Conflicting Impulses in the Plays of Ntozake Shange (St. Louis: St. Louis University Press, 1983); Arlene Elder, “Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo: Ntozake Shange’s Neo-Slave/Blues Narrative,” African American Review (1992).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: For His Times and Ours

 

Image Courtesy of the Royal College of Music

In the article below Hilary Burrage, Executive Chair of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation, a United Kingdom (UK)-based non-profit organisation, describes the composer and how she came to regard and preserve his work and legacy.

It has taken three times the duration of his own lifetime for the reputation of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Britain’s greatest black classical composer, to begin to make an impact on our contemporary world.  At the time of his tragically early death in 1912, aged 37 from a chest infection, Coleridge-Taylor was a nationally feted musical figure.  His Hiawatha Trilogy of staged opera-cantatas based on the poem by Longfellow were massive commercial successes even though he gained almost nothing from them financially.  

Summary: 
<i>In the article below Hilary Burrage, Executive Chair of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation, a United Kingdom (UK)-based non-profit organisation, describes the composer and how she came to regard and preserve his work and legacy.</i>
Sources: 
Jeffrey Green, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life (London, UK: Pickering & Chatto Publishers, 2011); Geoffrey Self, The Hiawatha Man: The Life And Work Of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1995); The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation: http://www.sctf.org.uk.
Contributor: 
Affiliation2: 
The Samuel Coleridge Taylor Foundation

Taylor, Cecil (1929- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Cecil P. Taylor in San Francisco, 1982
Image Ownership: Public Domain
One of the great innovators of jazz music, pianist Cecil Taylor has redefined modernist jazz improvisation and composition.  With uncompromising vision and sheer force of expression, his demanding music has both alienated and thrilled audiences, and has largely found a more receptive audience across the Atlantic.  Taylor is also an accomplished poet, often incorporating his works into musical performances.

Born in Long Island in 1929, Taylor began playing piano at the age of six at the behest of his mother, and he later formally studied music at the New York College of Music and the New England Conservatory.  In the early 1950s Taylor worked in R&B and swing ensembles, including a brief stint in Johnny Hodge's quintet.  In the mid-1950s Taylor formed his first ensemble featuring Steve Lacy, Dennis Charles, and Buell Neidlinger, all of whom participated in the recording of Taylor's 1956 debut, Jazz Advance.  Half a century after its release Jazz Advance remains one of the most extraordinary debuts in jazz, and it is an early indication of the directions Taylor's music, and indeed the whole of what would be understood as the jazz avant-garde movement, would pursue.
Sources: 
Graham Lock, Chasing the Vibration (Devon, Great Britain: Stride Publications, 1994); Valerie Wilmer, As Serious as Your Life (London: Serpent's Tail, 1992); Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (Eighth Edition) (London: Penguin Books, 2006); Richard Cook, Jazz Encyclopedia (London: Penguin Books, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Africans and African Americans in China: A Long History, A Troubled Present, and a Promising Future?

In the article below independent historian Robin Loftin explores the past, present, and possible future relationship between the world’s most populous nation and people of African ancestry.

Africa and China have had contact for more than a thousand years. Some scholars assert that the contacts began as early as 4th century A.D. but convincing evidence is sporadic or lacking. Beginning with the Tang dynasty (618 A.D. to 907 A.D.) documented evidence of contact and trade exists showing a relationship between China and the city-states of east Africa. This relationship has evolved over the centuries and led to a migration of Africans to China to study, trade, and act as diplomats. At least one account indicates that Du Huan was the first Chinese to visit Africa, probably in Nubia, during the 8th century A.D.

Summary: 
In the article below independent historian Robin Loftin explores the past, present, and possible future relationship between the world’s most populous nation and people of African ancestry.<br /> <br /> Africa and China have had contact for more than a thousand years. Some scholars assert that the contacts began as early as 4th century A.D. but convincing evidence is sporadic or lacking. Beginning with the Tang dynasty (618 A.D. to 907 A.D.) documented evidence of contact and trade exists showing a relationship between China and the city-states of east Africa.  This relationship has evolved over the centuries and led to a migration of Africans to China to study, trade, and act as diplomats. At least one account indicates that Du Huan was the first Chinese to visit Africa, probably in Nubia, during the 8th century A.D.
Sources: 
Don Wyatt, The Blacks of Premodern China (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010); Philip Snow, The Star Raft: China’s Encounter with Africa (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Adams Bodomo, Africans in China: A Sociocultural Study and its Implications for Africa-China Relations (Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2012); Julie Wilensky, “The Magical Kunlun and ‘Devil Slaves’: Chinese Perceptions of Dark-skinned People and Africa before 1500,” Sino-Platonic Papers 122: 1 (July 2002);Marc Gallicchio, The African American Encounter with Japan and China: Black Internationalism in Asia, 1895 – 1945 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Robin D. G. Kelley and Betsy Esch, “Black Like Mao: Red China and the Black Revolution,” Souls (Fall 1999). http://africansinchina.net/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jess, Tyehimba (1965- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Tyehimba Jess Accepts the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Olio
from Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger
Image Ownership, The Pulitzer Prize Foundation

Nationally acclaimed poet Tyehimba Jess was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1965. His father worked in the City’s Department of Health and served as vice president of Detroit’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His mother was a teacher and a nurse who founded a nursing school at Wayne County Community College in 1972.

Jess began writing poetry at the age of 16. After graduating from high school in 1984 he initially enrolled in the University of Chicago in Illinois, intending to be an English major so that he could pursue his career as a Poet.  Instead after three years he dropped out of college in 1987.

Sources: 
“Olio By Tyehimba Jess,” The 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Poetry, http://www.pulitzer.org/winners/tyehimba-jess; Tyehimba Jess, About Tyehimba, 2017, http://www.tyehimbajess.net/about.html; Poetry Foundation, Tyehimba Jess, 2018, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/tyehimba-jess.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hayden, Earl Robert (1913-1980)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The son of Asa and Ruth Sheffey who named him Asa Bundy at birth, poet Robert Hayden was born in Detroit, Michigan and reared in “Paradise Valley,” an inner city ghetto.  Adoptive parents, William and Sue Ellen Westerfield Hayden, gave him the name by which he is known.  A graduate of Detroit City College (now Wayne State University), Hayden earned a M.A. degree in English from the University of Michigan, where on two occasions (1938 and 1942), he received the Avery Hopkins awards for poetry

During the Great Depression Hayden worked as a researcher for the Federal Writers’ Project, an experience that exposed him to writers such as Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Margaret Walker, and gave him a great appreciation for African history and folk culture.  In 1940 Hayden married Erma Inez Morris and converted to the Baha’i faith. After teaching at Fisk University for twenty-three years, Hayden returned to the University of Michigan, to end his teaching career where he began it.    
Sources: 

Mark A. Sanders, “Robert Hayden,” in The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, William L. Andrews, et al., eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Darwin T. Turner, ed., Black American Literature: Poetry (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1969).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

African American Anti-Fascists in the Spanish Civil War

Eluard Luchell McDaniels, Spanish Civil
War Volunteer, Batea, Spain, May 1938
Image Courtesy of the Tamiment Library, New York University

Approximately 90 African Americans fought in Spain during the civil war that engulfed that nation between 1936 and 1939.  The war became a proxy war for the European great powers as the Soviet Union supported the newly established Second Spanish Republic while Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the anti-Republic conservatives led by General Francisco Franco.  Although officially neutral, approximately 2,800 volunteers from the United States traveled to Spain as the Lincoln Brigade to support the Republic.  In the article below, historian Peter N. Carroll tells the story of one little-known African American volunteer, Canute Frankson who left an account of his reason for fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

Summary: 
<i>Approximately 90 African Americans fought in Spain during the civil war that engulfed that nation between 1936 and 1939.  The war became a proxy war for the European great powers as the Soviet Union supported the newly established Second Spanish Republic while Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the anti-Republic conservatives led by General Francisco Franco.  Although officially neutral, approximately 2,800 volunteers from the United States traveled to Spain as the Lincoln Brigade to support the Republic.  In the article below, historian Peter N. Carroll tells the story of one little-known African American volunteer, Canute Frankson who left an account of his reason for fighting in the Spanish Civil War.</i>
Sources: 
Peter N. Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994); Danny Duncan Collum, ed., African Americans in the Spanish Civil War: “This Ain’t Ethiopia, But It’ll Do (NY: G.K. Hall, 1992); Peter N. Carroll, From Guernica to Human Rights: Essays on the Spanish Civil War (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press); Peter N Carroll, et. al, eds., The Good Fight Continues: World War II Letters from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (New York: NYU Press, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Horton, George Moses (1797-1880?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

George Moses Horton, the first African American to publish a collection of poetry in the South during the antebellum period, was the author of three collections of poetry: The Hope of Liberty (1829), The Poetical Works of George M. Horton (1845) and Naked Genius (1865).

George Moses was born enslaved to William Horton on a plantation in North Carolina in 1797. In 1800, William Horton, having found land in Northampton County untenable for plantation farming, relocated to Chatham County, North Carolina. George Moses, who spent the next ten years tending cows, soon took it upon himself to learn how to read. Soon after accomplishing his goal, George Moses discovered he preferred poetry over any other literary genre.

Sources: 
“George M. Horton, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography edited by William S. Powell, University of North Carolina Press, 1996, https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/hortonlife/bio.html; “Life of George M. Horton, The Colored Bard of North-Carolina,” https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/hortonlife/horton.html; Blyden Jackson, “George Moses Horton, North Carolinian,” The North Carolina Historical Review, 53: 2 (1976) JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23529617.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jordan, June (1936-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
June Meyer Jordan, writer, editor, poet, educator, environmental and social activist, was the only child of Granville Ivanhoe and Mildred Maude Fischer Jordan who were Jamaican immigrants. June was born in Harlem on July 9, 1936.  June’s father worked as a night shift postal clerk and her mother was a part-time private-duty nurse.  The family lived in Harlem until June was six years old, when they moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn.  June’s father subjected her to serious physical abuse that continued throughout her childhood.  It was in this terrifying environment of bullying and severe beatings, that seven year old June found solace in the written word and began writing poetry.  In her memoir, Soldier, a Poet’s Childhood, she credited her father’s treatment with influencing her to write and introducing her to literature.
Sources: 
June Jordan, Soldier–A Poet’s Childhood (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2000); June Jordan, Soulscript–A Collection of African American Poetry (New York: Harlem Moon Press, 1970); “Poet of the People,” http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2002/06/17_jordan.html ;
http://www.junejordan.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Texas Southern University

Grimké, Charlotte Forten (1837-1914)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Charlotte Forten Grimké grew up in a rich intellectual and activist environment.  Born into a wealthy Black abolitionist family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Charlotte Louise Forten became famous in her own right as a writer and poet.  Her grandparents, James, Sr. and Charlotte Forten, hosted leading black and white abolitionists into their home on a regular basis.  James Forten was one of the wealthiest blacks in Philadelphia, having amassed a fortune in the sail making business. Her parents, Robert Bridges Forten and Mary Woods Forten, continued the family’s activist tradition as had her uncles and aunts, including Sarah, Harriet, and Margaretta Forten, who helped establish the bi-racial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. 
Sources: 
Janice Sumler-Edmond, “Charlotte Forten Grimké,” in Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, vol. I (New York: Carlson, 1993): 505-507; Julie Winch, A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); and Brenda Stevenson, ed., The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Allen, Samuel W. (1917-2015)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, James Madison University

Samuel W. Allen was an accomplished lawyer, translator, academic, and poet who wrote his African-inspired poetry under the pseudonym Paul Vesey. He was one of the first black poets to achieve significant recognition in Europe and the United States.  Allen was born in Columbus, Ohio on December 9, 1917 to college-educated parents and attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where majored in sociology. While at Fisk, however, he also studied writing with Harlem Renaissance novelist and critic James Weldon Johnson. After his graduation with high honors in 1938, Allen entered Harvard Law School and earned his J.D. in 1941.

Sources: 
“Allen, Samuel W. 1917-,” Contemporary Black Biography, Encyclopedia.com, 2005, https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/allen-samuel-w-1917, “Samuel W. Allen,” Oxford Reference, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095403646, Jennifer Bates, “Samuel W. Allen, 97,” Bostonia, 2016, https://www.bu.edu/bostonia/summer16/faculty-obituaries/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Wiggins, Thomas “Blind Tom” (1849-1908)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Thomas Greene Wiggins was born May 25, 1849 to Mungo and Charity Wiggins, slaves on a Georgia plantation. He was blind and autistic but a musical genius with a phenomenal memory. In 1850 Tom, his parents, and two brothers were sold to James Neil Bethune, a lawyer and newspaper editor in Columbus, Georgia. Young Tom was fascinated by music and other sounds, and could pick out tunes on the piano by the age of four. He made his concert debut at eight, performing in Atlanta.

Sources: 
Geneva Handy Southall, Blind Tom, The Black Pianist-Composer: Continually Enslaved (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2002); http://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/Wiggins.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Prince, Lucy Terry (c. 1732-1821)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
John Saillant, Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753-1833 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
State University of New York at Buffalo

Major, Clarence (1936- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Clarence Lee Major is a distinguished poet, novelist, painter, anthologist, lexicographer, memoirist, and teacher. His creative output encompasses a wide range of artistic and intellectual endeavors across six decades, producing works that have often defied expectations, provoked controversy, and revealed new ways of seeing.

Major was born December 31, 1936, in Atlanta, Georgia to Clarence and Irene Huff Major. In 1946, Major’s parents were divorced and he and his sister, Serena, went to live with their mother in Chicago, Illinois.

Early on, Major’s talents were evident. His drawing ability was first noticed in preschool, and he earned writing prizes throughout his childhood. At age 12, he started lessons with painter Gus Nall, who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). In high school, Major received a Raymond Fellowship to take classes at SAIC.

Sources: 
Keith Byerman, The Art and Life of Clarence Major (Athens: U Georgia Press, 2012); Brent Edwards, “Clarence Major.” African American Writers, edited by Valerie Smith, 2d Ed., vol. 2, (New York: Scribners, 2001); Clarence Major website, http://www.clarencemajor.com/index.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Johnson, Ellsworth “Bumpy” (1906–1968)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson was an American gangster in Harlem, New York in the 20th century. He has been the subject or character of a number of Hollywood films including The Cotton Club, Hoodlum, and most recently, American Gangster

Johnson was originally from Charleston, South Carolina. During his formative years, his family moved north to Harlem. He was given the name “Bumpy” due to a large bump on his forehead. Known for his “flashy” style and dapper look, Johnson was at various times a pimp, a thief and a burglar.  He was always armed and did not hesitate to resort to violence to achieve his objectives. 
Sources: 
Ron Chepesiuk, Gangsters of Harlem (New York: Barrick Books, 2007); John H. Johnson, Fact Not Fiction in Harlem, (Northern Type Printing, 1980); Genevieve Fabre and Michel Feith, Temples For Tomorrow: Looking Back At The Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001); Crime Library website, Black Gangs of Harlem 1920-1939 http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/gangs/harlem_gangs/5.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Dunbar, Paul Laurence (1872-1906)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris, eds., The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Braxton, Joanne M, ed. The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993); http://www.dunbarsite.org/biopld.asp.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

(Beasley) Evers-Williams, Myrlie Louise (1933- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Myrlie and Medgar Evers, ca. 1955
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Sources: 
“Myrlie Evers-Williams Biography,” A&E Television Networks, February 16, 2015, https://www.biography.com/people/myrlie-evers-williams-205624; Ronni Mott, “Myrlie Evers-Williams,” Jackson Free Press, August 6, 2009, http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2009/aug/06/myrlie-evers-williams/; Joan Goldsworthy, “Myrlie Evers-Williams,” The Mississippi Writers Page, September 2002, http://www.mwp.olemiss.edu/dir/evers_myrlie/index.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Walker, Alice M. (1944- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Steve Exum

The first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Alice Walker was born the eighth child of sharecroppers Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. Walker became the valedictorian of her segregated high school class, despite an accident at age eight that impaired the vision in her left eye. Before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College, where she received a B.A. degree, she attended Atlanta’s Spelman College for two years, where she became a political activist, met Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.

Also, during her undergraduate studies, Walker visited Africa as an exchange student. She later registered voters in Georgia and worked with the Head Start program in Mississippi, where she met and married civil rights attorney Melvyn Rosenthal (the marriage lasted ten years), became the mother of daughter Rebecca, and taught at historically black colleges Jackson State College and Tougaloo College. Walker has also taught at Wellesley College, University of Massachusetts at Boston, the University of California at Berkeley, and Brandeis University.  At Brandeis she is credited with teaching the first American course on African American women writers.

Sources: 
Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983); Henry L. Gates and Anthony Appiah, eds., Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (New York: Amistad, 1993); Lovalerie King, “Alice Walker” in Encyclopedia of African American Literature, Ed. Wilfred D. Samuels (New York: Facts on File, 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Baraka, Amiri (1934-2014)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Amiri Baraka

Everett Leroi Jones, poet, playwright, activist, and educator, was born on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey to Coyt Leverrette Jones and Anna Lois Jones.  He attended primary and secondary schools in Newark and in 1954 he earned a B.A. in English from Howard University.  Jones joined the military that same year, serving three years in the Air Force as a gunner. 

Following his honorable discharge, Jones he settled in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan where he socialized with Beatnik artists, musicians, and writers.  While living in the Village, he also met and married Hettie Cohen, a Jewish writer.  The couple co-edited the progressive literary magazine Yugen.  They also founded Totem Press, which published the works of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other political activists.

Sources: 

Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006); Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999), 181; http://www.amiribaraka.com/

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Brewer, John Mason (1896-1975)

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People
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African American History in the West
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Born in Goliad, Texas on March 24, 1896, John Mason Brewer became one of the twentieth century’s premier African American folklorists. A poet, essayist, historian, and anthologist, Brewer earned an undergraduate degree from Wiley College in 1917 and later a graduate degree from Indiana University.  Over his career he taught on both the high school and college levels.   

Brewer worked at Samuel Huston College in Austin from 1926 to 1933 when he left to pursue additional studies and career options. He returned in 1944 to teach at Huston-Tillotson College (previously Samuel Huston College) until 1959 when he went to Livingston College in North Carolina. Brewer moved back to Texas ten years later (1969) and taught at East Texas State University until his death in 1975.
Sources: 
Bruce A. Glasrud, “From Griggs to Brewer: A Review of Black Texas Culture, 1899-1940,” Journal of Big Bend Studies 15 (2003): 195-212; James W. Byrd, J. Mason Brewer: Negro Folklorist (Austin: Steck-Vaughn Company, 1967); Kenneth W. Turner, “Negro Collectors of Negro Folklore: A Study of J. Mason Brewer and Zora Neale Hurston (Master’s thesis, East Texas State University, 1964).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Chole, Eshetu (1945-1998)

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People
History Type: 
Global African History
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Eshetu Chole was Ethiopia’s leading economist prior to his death in 1998. His research and publications encompassed an extraordinary breadth: agriculture, industrial and social development, fiscal policy, macro- and microeconomics, and human development at national and regional levels. He was also a budding poet.

Chole was born in Negele Borena in southern Ethiopia where he obtained his elementary education. He completed his education at the General Wingate Secondary School in Addis Ababa. He then attended University College Addis Ababa (later Haile Sellassie I University and now Addis Ababa University) where he earned his first degree in economics in 1966 and simultaneously won the Chancellor’s Gold Medal of the Arts Faculty.
Sources: 
Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Durem, Ramón (1915-1963)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

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Spanish Civil War veteran and militant poet Ramón Durem was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1915 of mixed heritage.  Leaving home at fourteen, he briefly served in the U.S. Navy before suffering a leg injury that forced his discharge.  He then worked as a laborer until enrolling at the University of California in Berkeley where he joined the Communist Party in 1931.  A radical from an early age, it is hardly surprising that Durem volunteered to join the Loyalist cause in Spain.

Durem departed the United States in March 1937 and was wounded in the Brunete Offensive of that year.  During his long recuperation at the American hospital in Villa Paz, Durem met and married a Brooklyn nurse named Rebecca Schulman.  Durem returned to the front in 1938 and participated in the Ebro Offensive.  In October, around the same time Rebecca was having his first child (named Dolores for La Pasionaria) in New York, Ramón marched in Barcelona’s farewell parade.  He was expatriated in December.

Sources: 
Danny Duncan Collum and Victor A. Berch, African Americans in the Spanish Civil War: “This Ain’t Ethiopia, But It’ll Do” (New York, New York: G.K. Hall & Co, 1992); Ray Durem, Take No Prisoners (London, UK: Paul Breman, 1971); Peter Wyden, The Passionate War (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Tolson, Melvin B. (1898-1966)

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People
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African American History in the West

 

Image courtesy of Modern American Poetry,
University of Illinois

Born on February 6, 1898 in Moberly, Missouri, Melvin Beaunorus Tolson is known as one of the most significant African American modernist poets of his time. In addition, Tolson’s work as an educator led Langston Hughes to declare him “the most famous Negro Professor in the Southwest” in the mid-twentieth century.

Sources: 
Nelson, Carl, Editor, “Modern American Poetry,” http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/tolson/tolson.htm (Accessed December 18, 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bell, James Madison (1826-1902)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

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James Madison Bell, poet, orator and activist was born in Gallipolis, Ohio on April 3, 1826. Bell lived in Ohio most of his life although he briefly resided in Canada and California before eventually returning to Ohio. When Bell was 16 he moved to Cincinnati to live with his brother-in-law George Knight who taught him the plastering trade. Knight and Bell were talented plasterers who in 1851 were awarded the contract to plaster the Hamilton County public buildings.

On November 9, 1847, Bell married Louisiana Sanderlin. The couple eventually had seven children and lived in Cincinnati until 1854 when they moved to Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Chatham was a major destination for the Underground Railroad, and while there Bell became involved in abolitionist activities and later returned to Cincinnati to continue his antislavery work. 

Although he supported himself primarily as a plasterer, Bell soon became known for his speeches and poems which he used in the campaign against slavery.  His most famous poem, “The Day and the War,” was read at Platt’s Hall in Cincinnati in January 1864 for the Celebration of the first Anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Bell dedicated “The Day and the War” to friend and fellow abolitionist John Brown who was executed in 1859 for his role in the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); "James Madison Bell" in Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 40, edited by Ashyia Henderson (Detroit: The Gale Group, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bontemps, Arna (1902-1973)

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People
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African American History
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Hoping for a much better life outside the racially oppressive South and Alexandria, Louisiana where Arnaud Wendell Bontemps was born, the middle class Bontemps family moved to the Watts community just south of Los Angeles.  They soon abandoned Catholicism and became devout Seventh Day Adventists.  Bontemps’ mother was a schoolteacher and his father, a bricklayer, was determined to have the family assimilate into the dominant white culture.  In 1923, Bontemps graduated from Pacific Union College, an Adventist school in California, and found work in the US Post Office.  He next used his church connections to secure a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in New York City in 1924.
Sources: 
Kirkland C. Jones, Renaissance Man from Louisiana: A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992); Robert E. Fleming,“ Arna Wendell Bontemps (1902-1973): http://www.blacksdahistory.org/arna-bontemps.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Coleman, Wanda Evans (1946-2013)

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Wanda Evans Coleman was an American poet and writer who won critical acclaim for her avant-garde work, but remained relatively unknown to a broader audience. Her 30 year literary career included a myriad of poetry and fiction publications.

Born and raised in the Watts section of Los Angeles, California on November 13, 1946, Coleman was the daughter of George and Lewana (Scott) Evans. Her father was an ex-boxer and long-time friend and sparring partner of Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore.  He also ran a sign shop during the day and worked the graveyard shift as a janitor at RCA Victor Records. Her mother worked as a seamstress and as a housekeeper for Ronald Reagan, among other celebrities.

When she was 13, her first poem was published in a local newspaper. As teenagers she and her brother worked for their father in his home-based publishing company, an experience that prepared her for a career as a freelance writer.
Sources: 
Priscilla Ann Brown and Wanda Coleman, "What Saves Us: An Interview with Wanda Coleman," retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3300711 (2003); Justin D. Gifford, Wanda Coleman, Emory “Butch” Holmes II, “Harvard in Hell”: Holloway House Publishing Company, Players Magazine, and the Invention of Black Mass-Market Erotica (2010), Poetry Foundation, Wanda Coleman biography, retrieved from, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/wanda-coleman (2015); Elaine Woo, "Wanda Coleman dies at 67; Watts native, L.A.'s unofficial poet laureate," Los Angeles Times.com, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/nov/23/local/la-me-wanda-coleman-20131124-1; Wanda Coleman, The Riot Inside Me: More Trials & Tremors (New Hampshire: Black Sparrow Books, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Whitfield, James Monroe (1822-1871)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); The Classroom Electric, http://www.classroomelectric.org/volume1/levine/bio.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

McKay, Claude (1889-1948)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
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Harlem Renaissance writer Festus Claudius McKay was born on September 15, 1889, in Sunny Ville, in the Clarendon Hills of Jamaica, to peasant farmers Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards  and Thomas Frank McKay. Young Claude was tutored by his elder schoolmaster brother, Uriah Theodore McKay, who introduced him to a library dominated by the ideas of the great free thinkers, particularly Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer. While working in Kingston as a constable, McKay became the protégé of Walter Jekyll, a British aristocrat and anthropologist who also placed his personal library at Claude McKay’s disposal.    

McKay published his first two volumes of poetry, Songs of Jamaica (1912) and Constab Ballads (1912), written in the island’s rich dialect, before migrating to America to study agronomy at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and later at Kansas State University. By 1917, however, he was no longer in college and living in Harlem. 

Sources: 
Wayne Cooper, ed., The Passion of Claude McKay (New York: Schocken Books, 1973); Wilfred D. Samuels, Five Afro-Caribbean Voices in American Culture, 1917-1929 (Boulder: Belmont, 1977).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Oliver, Nikkita (1986- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership, Nate Gowdy

Nikkita Oliver is an attorney, teacher, poet, and social activist. She is well-known for her 2017 run for mayor of Seattle, Washington where she came in a surprising third in a field of twenty-one candidates which included many established politicians.  Oliver was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and grew up in a biracial household there. Oliver credits the experience of seeing her father go in and out of jail for failure to pay child support as one of the reasons she is so adamant about making the public aware about the injustice that exists in the legal system.

Sources: 
“About Nikkita Oliver,” Seattle Peoples Party, https://seattlepeoplesparty.com/about-nikkita-oliver/; Hayat Norimine, “What’s Next For Nikkita Oliver?” Seattle Met, Jan. 1, 2018, https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2018/1/31/what-s-next-for-nikkita-oliver; David Kroman,  “Activist, Attorney Nikkita Oliver Is Running For Mayor” Crosscut, March 7, 2017, https://crosscut.com/2017/03/nikkita-oliver-activist-seattle-mayor; Norimine Hayat, “Candidate Profile: Nikkita Oliver” Seattle Met, July 24, 2017, https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2017/7/24/candidate-profile-nikkita-oliver; Mahroo Keshavarz, “Nikkita Oliver Connects Art, Activism, and Education” The Seattle Globalist, March 21, 2016, http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2016/03/21/seattle-nikkita-oliver-youth-speaks-arts-corps/48973.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brown, Solomon G. (1829-1906)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
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Solomon G. Brown, poet, lecturer, and scientific technician, became the first African American employee at the Smithsonian Institution.  He also played a significant role in the implementation of the first electric telegraph and was well versed in the study of natural history.  

Born on February 14, 1829 in Washington D.C., Brown was the fourth of six children born to Isaac and Rachel Brown, both ex-slaves.  When his father died in 1832, the Brown family was left homeless and heavily in debt. Due to this enormous setback, Solomon was unable to attain a formal education.  

At the age of fifteen he began working at the Washington, D.C. post office where he was assigned to assist Joseph Henry and Samuel F.B. Morse in the installation of the first Morse telegraph line in the nation.  Despite his young age, Brown was one of the technicians who helped set up the telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Brown continued to work for Samuel F.B. Morse for the next seven years.
Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: Norton, 1982); The Smithsonian Institute Archives: http://siarchives.si.edu.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brooks, Gwendolyn (1917-2000)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks, born June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas, moved to Chicago, Illinois where she was reared and launched her literary career.  Marrying Henry Blakely in 1939, the couple had two children. 

Brooks's formal education consists of an associate degree in literature and arts from Wilson Junior College but she has also received over seventy honorary degrees from several leading universities.  In her early years, Brooks served as the director of publicity for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Chicago.

Individual poems published in the Chicago Defender during her high school years preceded Brooks's first collection of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945). This book focused on “community consciousness.”  Brooks's Annie Allen was published in 1949 with a focus on “self-realization” and “artistic sensibility” of a young black woman.  That volume made her the first African American to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.  The Bean Eater, her third book, was released in 1960. 

Sources: 
Carol F. Bender and Annie Allen, Masterplots 4th ed. Literary Reference Center (Pasadena: Salem Press, 2010); Charles M. Isreal and William T. Lawlor, Cyclopedia of World Authors 4th ed.  Literary Reference Center (Pasadena: Salem Press, 2004); Henry Taylor and Harold Bloom,  “Gwendolyn Brooks: An Essential Sanity,”  Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Gwendolyn Brooks  (New York: InfoBase Publishing, 2000): 161-179.
Affiliation: 
Jefferson State Community College, Alabama

Whitman, Alberry Allson (1851-1901)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Alberry Allson Whitman was a romantic poet and a clergyman of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Whitman was born enslaved in Hart County, Kentucky. He became a freedman in 1863, but his family was unable to enjoy their freedom for long as his parents died shortly thereafter.
Sources: 
Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982);
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Johnson, James Weldon (1871-1938)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

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James Weldon Johnson, composer, diplomat, social critic, and civil rights activist, was born of Bahamian immigrant parents in Jacksonville, Florida on June 17, 1871.   Instilled with the value of education by his father, James, a waiter, and teacher-mother, Helen, Johnson excelled at the Stanton School in Jacksonville. In 1889 he entered Atlanta University in Georgia, graduating in 1894.  

In 1896, Johnson began to study law in Thomas Ledwith’s law office in Jacksonville, Florida.  In 1898, Ledwith considered Johnson ready to take the Florida bar exam.  After a grueling two hour exam, Johnson was given a pass and admitted to the bar.  One examiner expressed his anguish by bolting from the room and stating “Well, I can’t forget he’s a nigger; and I’ll be damned if I’ll stay here to see him admitted.” In 1898, Johnson became one of only a handful of black attorneys in the state. 

Sources: 
Eugene Levy, James Weldon Johnson: Black Leader, Black Voice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973); Herbert Aptheker, “DuBois on James Weldon Johnson,” Journal of Negro History, 58 (July 1967); James W. Johnson, Black Manhattan (New York: Da Capo, 1991); James W. Johnson, Along This Way (New York: Penguin Books, 1990); V.P. Franklin, Living Our Stories, Telling Our Truths: Autobiography and the Making of the African-American Intellectual Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fresno
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